This episode features Hyejung Kook’s poem “In All This Singing”, & James Radcliffe’s song “Breathe”.
Hyejung Kook's poetry has appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pleiades, Verse Daily, the Beloit Poetry Journal, the Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. Other works include an essay in The Critical Flame and a chamber opera libretto. Hyejung is a Fulbright grantee and a Kundiman fellow.
James Radcliffe is an independent musician, writer, and spoken word artist, who has been creating original work and performing it live since he was 7 years old. His blog is read in 170+ countries, his releases have enjoyed the #1 spot on Bandcamp, and he has amassed over 120,000 followers across social media platforms. At the beginning of 2018 James took all of his music down from the internet and burned it. He is now hard at work on several secret projects which will be coming to fruition very soon.
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Thanks to popular demand from listeners, I’m excited to tell you that we are also sharing the full text of the poems in each episode from now on. Here we are…
In All This Singing
Do I leap? she asked.
Do I leaf?
Does it ease?
Can it ever?
My white flower—singing.
Leave the silver ring.
Is the shade so hard to find?
The slope so steep.
The bells are always ringing.
Heartsease doesn’t help
Or any other flower.
The unasked presses,
Sweetness, the acacia,
It knits our lips together,
Unknits the bones.
The canon would prefer to go on forever.
Weighted, its lines are balanced.
Or all the strings would snap.
A fraying edge loves its own looseness—
Unweaving losses, an egg’s weight, the arc of a parabola
The upright green
Rising from the loamy earth.
My love for you is arboreal, she wrote.
It’s as if they all leap out and reach for me.
What lies between these corners and my body?
The sweet blue-purple of the bruise,
The air blows hard upon us.
If the window opened,
Could you and I sleep?
Your skin shuddered all over.
Your eyelids flexed and bobbed like the sea.
There was nothing to be done.
The eggshell of her skin broke.
Light entered through the cracks
And held her open.
The unasked found its way inside.
It melted but she didn’t overflow.
She fell in.
What if all the lines break?
Would she slip away?
A gutted fish—
Knife caught on icy clots
Silver in the skin and not the scales
Bone radiating, the hand
A webbed fin rising
And falling through water.
I saw how it was then.
You didn’t speak.
It lay between us, that thing of quiet.
It opened and flowered
And filled the room
Until the walls came tumbling down
And the air tasted of ash and cold.
Still we were quiet.
Unmoving, as the particles in the air
Took their places on the floor.
A frigid lake.
A woman alone.
She is naked underneath the water.
He fell in love. A secret.
Took her clothes away,
So she couldn’t leave.
In the story she finds them
years later. Leaves without a backward
glance, a child under each arm.
This isn’t that story.
She will not find them.
She will not leave.
You said you wouldn’t sleep.
But I saw you would leave me
The way your hands were,
How they didn’t touch me,
The mouth open only to the air
And the fine, bright thread
Unspooling in the dark.
Rumpled white sheets.
The nakedness of the bed frame
and box spring embarrasses her.
Like a woman half-undressed.
Morning light cannot wash
the edges clean.
Face like a white peach, she said.
Round and pale, blushing cheeks
Would the flesh bruise
Under its own weight?
Heavy grapes cluster in his palm.
The dusky skins with their cold sheen
Barely attach to the fruit underneath
As if they want to unskin themselves.
And the bitter pips, tiny lobed hearts
Spat out or crushed
Between small white teeth.
You were so far away from me.
Your eyes that have something
Of the bird about them
Soft, unfocused, gazing at a point
Somewhere just past the tip of my right ear.
I couldn’t stop looking at you.
What am I supposed to do?
A shoulder blade pushes up against skin.
The bones have grown tired of their arrangements.
They would like to see a change.
If they could they would call
On a god for help.
This poor, forked body
Would branch and branch again,
Tightly rolled green
Uncurling to light and heat—
Unravel and multiply
In the webbed dark.
Memory will break
Unless the bar is crossed.
Always complete the thought.
If you don’t know how to phrase it
Try singing. You can always trust breath.
She lets the unspoken take root
In the bedroom floor,
Waters it with silence.
It thrives with minimal attention
The leaves providing shade
Despite the brightest conditions.
Plucked, they serve as an excellent garnish.
Their sharp, astringent flavor
Keeps the tongue occupied.
Sometimes she thinks
I am capable of terrible cruelty.
Sometimes the bed is too cold.
How can I move from the imprint
Of my own heat
Unsettle the too-thin
Sheath of blankets?
The sight of your back
Fills me. I spill past my edges.
Knobs of vertebrae
Fitting together perfectly.
I cannot touch them,
I might break.
The air breathes, separate, invisible,
Except for white traces
In the coldest weather.
The waves, white and cold,
Cannot decide what they are meant
To do. This time the words won’t tell.
The ending doesn’t have the answer.
We will have to say something.
It turns into something else
On the tongue. Lead, ash, gold
Coins of indeterminate origin.
Or spotted snakes, frogs, small flowers
That bloom in the dead of winter.
Anything but words.
Anything but this.
I am waiting like a field
Of winter barley.
To be threshed, winnowed,
Crushed, shaken, then gathered
Into your arms again.
The solution has passed saturation point.
Even with the application of heat
It cannot contain any more
Of you, or me.
Our voices boil away into vapor,
Bodies precipitate out of solution.
How can I bear it?
This dissolving of things.
What if the body cannot hold?
Even the weeds exceed me.
Will we sleep
where the crooked line of your mouth leads?